Although I’ve always loved cooking, my schooling was in anthropology and women’s studies. Though I fantasized about culinary school, I didn’t allow myself to seriously consider cooking as a career. Instead I studied people, sociology, and culture.
After graduation, and sick of academia, I got a job in a kitchen where I found that working with my hands was extremely satisfying. And the beauty was, I didn’t have to give up my interest in people.
As I’ve moved from conference center and restaurant cooking to catering and now personal chef work, I’ve been pleased to learn that cooking is a fascinating way to interact with people.
Working for Lola, the Filipina professional chef and owner of a vegetarian restaurant where I sauteed for eight years, I discovered that Filipinos tend to point with their lips (by pooching them in the desired direction). I also learned how to make adobo, a mouth-watering dish of slow simmered pork or chicken with white vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, and pepper.
Much is revealed when meeting with clients to discuss their wedding meals. While many couples share the pants in the family, often the bride has ultimate say in the food decisions. I was fascinated to see some women rudely dismiss their fiance ©es’ suggestions and wondered how their marriages would fair.
Once I gave a family notice after a year of being their personal chef, because of plans to travel abroad for six months. The mother was so sad and angry that she cried because she’d never been able to provide healthy food on a regular basis for her four children until I came along.
Then there was the fellow on a very strict diet: vegetables only, no garlic or salt, and only lemon and cayenne pepper for seasoning. I would throw eight different veggies in water and boil it and for this he paid me extravagantly. He was perfectly capable of cooking for himself; he just wanted the company. He’d lean on the door jam and chat aboutwhatever the whole time I was there.
Many of my clients are good cooks–they just lack the time to make their own food. Johanna runs a thriving online business, home schools her children, and is doing all the general contracting for the new addition on their 100 percent environmentally friendly home. Her house is always abuzz with phone calls, workmen, tutors, house cleaners, and children as I prepare enormous batches (for freezing) of organic, dairy- and gluten-free fish curries, chicken gumbos, and lamb stews.
Clients like Johanna balk when I offer to a salad or rice. “I think I can handle that much!” Whereas other less multi-tasking clients get flustered when I don’t give detailed enough instructions for how to heat up soup.
Whether it’s therapy, sociological research, or cross-cultural communication, cooking continues to satisfy my interest in food and people.